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October 14, 2018

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Brian: "how could our will truly be free? Meaning, not under the influence of our prior experiences, knowledge, values, desires, etc., etc. There would have to be some sort of free will fairy dust floating around inside our head that somehow stood completely apart from all of the causes both inside and outside of us that otherwise affect our thoughts and actions."

This is very true which demonstrates that the very definition of "free will" is absurd. How can there be a causeless cause of action, action predicated on nothing at all? All actions are conditional and contextual.

And who would want it differently? Who would desire freedom, if this particular species of freedom required action entirely unmotivated by and detached from experience, knowledge, value, desire, etc? Our own behavior would be thoroughly erratic, arbitrary, capricious, and unreliable. This is not exactly an ideal scenario for survival.

This doesn't change the self evident fact that there are intentional and unintentional actions? Are intentions illusions as well, if when they are conditional and contextual? What is the difference between an intentionally initiated movement and unintentional movement; between a reflexive action and a deliberative action?

Furthermore, a better question would be, in my opinion: is consciousness an entirely a-causal epiphenomenon or is it effectual in any way? Does it exert any influence at all and, if so, what?

I think the answer is "free will within constraint." And as we evolve the scope of those constraints are lessened somewhat. For instance, if a thought comes to mind it can determine our emotional state. However, as we become more self aware we can notice that thought and dismiss it, thus saving ourselves from a "pre-determined" emotion. Free will is a function of creativity, which seems to be built into the cosmos. The freedom to exercise that creativity is what free will is about.

The argument for or against anything is always contingent upon a proper defining of terms as a starting point.

As Brian has shown, "free will" is defined as a will that stands "completely apart from all causes both inside and outside" that is "not under the influence of our prior experiences, knowledge, values, desires, etc..."

Well, of course this is nonsense. This is entirely illogical and nobody would even remotely want this anyway. This makes me think that some of those vehemently arguing for "free will" may be approaching this from a different starting point altogether. Either this or they mistakenly think they want something that they would most certainly not want.


"Free will is a religious delusion, not an atheist one"

This is not exactly true. The existential philosophers were exponents of the freedom of will (in some measure or another) and, with the exception of Kierkegaard, were atheists. Sartre was perhaps the most vociferous in his position, asserting that humankind has absolute freedom and the responsibility for self-determination. From Existentialism is a Humanism:

"We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does."

Hi JB
You wrote
"This is not exactly true. The existential philosophers were exponents of the freedom of will (in some measure or another) and, with the exception of Kierkegaard, were atheists. Sartre was perhaps the most vociferous in his position, asserting that humankind has absolute freedom and the responsibility for self-determination. From Existentialism is a Humanism:"

I concur. Nietche also advocated free will," Will overcoming" our own personal limitations.

He didn't like religion precisely because it gave excuse to bad behavior.

If personal responsibility is viewed as a reflection of free will, then it is the self - made. Identify that carries the greatest personal burden and "free will"


My Master once asked, "Why go out alone? You can go with God."

That actually requires submission of free will to the vows and inner direction of the Master. Much easier said than done.

It's a lifetime's struggle to live to the dictates of any set of ethical principles. Whether they are perceived as part of a real world of spirit, or a higher realm of conviction to a greater purpose is almost of no import.

But the reward is greater personal freedom of choice.

A paradox for sure.

The irony with the notion of "free will" is that it too would entirely absolve one of responsibility, in the same way that strict behavioral determinism entirely absolves one of responsibility.

This notion of free will, as defined, requires that in order for the will to be free, choices must be made for no reason at all. Thus, a free will is a will in which all actions are entirely unmotivated, ungrounded, and unintended. Therefore, there would be absolutely no responsibility.

I think we do have responsibility, not to any God, but to our fellow beings. Being conscious, we are esperiential beings. As experiential beings, our volition is grounded in experience. For how could it be otherwise?

The choices that are made derive from, at least in part, the fact that one is cognizant that there are experiential consequences of one's actions for oneself, others, or both. Because we have a Theory of Mind, we ascribe consciousness, and therefore experience, to others. This informs one's behavior to the extent that one is mindful of this fact.

Arguing about whether or not humankind has responsibility is immaterial to the fact that humankind must deal with the consequences of behavior. This is an incontrovertible fact. We know that actions have consequences for ourself and others, and this awareness acts as a parameter with regards to volition. If everyone was running around with "free will", a veritable anarchy would ensue.

Hi JB
You wrote
"This notion of free will, as defined, requires that in order for the will to be free, choices must be made for no reason at all. Thus, a free will is a will in which all actions are entirely unmotivated, ungrounded, and unintended. Therefore, there would be absolutely no responsibility."

Actually that would be free but no will. That would be free of will. Not free will.

We are bound by our will, when we uncover it, when it is unrestricted.

But what is that will?
And what can we make of it?

Brian defined free will as being "completely apart from all causes both inside and outside" and is "not under the influence of our prior experiences, knowledge, values, desires, etc, etc..."

Therefore, this postulates a hypothetical will in which decisions are made for no reason, which is not a will at all. Free will defined as an unrestricted will, is a contradiction in terms.

Hi JB
Brian's definition of free will is his own.
Traditionally, and in the writings you site, the distinction is being made between external and internal influence.

Free will is the freedom from external influences.
And there is then the freedom for that internal will to act.

Moving away from the straw-man of free will, the real question is: Is there a limited capacity for choice and how it might operate?

Also, does the existence of consciousness have any effect on behavior?

Any takers?

Spence, you accept the "compatibilist" view of free will. This confusingly mixes determinism with the absence of external coercion to do something. Thus a compatibilist says that someone acted freely if they weren't being compelled to perform an action (like a prison guard forcing someone into a cell), but rather acted from supposed "internal" forces.

Many neuroscientists and philosophers consider this viewpoint to be highly suspect. It redefines "free will" to mean any fully determined action that doesn't appear to be compelled by an external force.

But most people correctly view free will as the ability to choose an action, thought, or whatever freely. And by "correctly" I don't mean this view is true, just that this is the correct definition of free will --- not a made-up definition that attempts to combine determinism with free will, which makes no sense.

Brian, I enjoyed your article Free will exists. Freedom of the will doesn't where you discuss how carrying out a willed action is distinct from choosing what one wills.

Yes, we've been programmed by evolution and our circumscribed will operates within those very narrow parameters. As experiential beings, we are have two basic motivations: secure postive experience and avoid negative experience. This is our fundamental immutable programming. And once again, as experiential beings, no one would want it any other way.

Evolution has endowed us with sentience and has exploited qualia (the felt quality of experience) to impel behavior. This is why, for instance, there are experiential rewards for securing sustenance, for reproduction, etc (eating is associated with flavor, sex is associated with the orgasm). If experience wasn't integral to behavior, these experiential rewards would not be necessary and would not occur.

Brian: "How do you live your life, if not through reason? Do you use reason when deciding whether to buy home insurance, a new car, or where to go on vacation?"

So just to be clear, are you not contending that you have a limited capacity for decision making? That deliberation can be carried out carefully and with the employment of reason?

Or are just you speaking from the default position out of habit or due to the conventions of language?

Hi Brian
I think you may have misunderstood.
Free of external influences is not also free of internal influences.
And there are many layers of that. Not free of conditioning, genetics, biology, and the influence of one's past.

But it is interesting to note that the attitude that we can change seems attendant with the focus on learning, and through learning, broadening our choices.

So we can intervene and provide a different viewpoint.

And we can read others opinions. Exposed to that, we are challenged, and if not consciously, unconsciously. And informed, we can make decisions that may further our own goals better than we knew. We can exercise a greater span of choice and control over our lives by learning a broader range of skills and choices. In that sense we have increased our freedom of will.


Brian
Let's bring this home with another example. The devout Satsangi who learns there is corruption afoot. Now they must choose what to do with this information. They are challenged. And they will never be the same again. Can they make a decision with the highest ethics which they have prized for years?

In that moment they have greater free will. And greater duty to use what they know responsibly. They have a choice they didn't want.

I think it's a character building exercise. But it definitely changes one's will.

That is certainly greater, informed freer will.

It's surely not too difficult. One can see this matter both logically and through one's everyday experience. Also, it is both a genetic and a cultural issue. Leave to one side all the genetic information we are born with which gets overlaid and perhaps distorted by our cultural conditioning.

From birth, we assimilate numerous rules and instructions on how to – in effect – live our lives. It is from these mentally ingrained injunctions that automatically produces our choices. To avoid the mental conflict of cognitive dissonance a choice or decision arises from this mass of accrued information. What we feel as free will is the brain offering up from its store of experience and information a number of choices. The choice that presents the least mental conflict – even if it is one we may not like – gets selected.

It may seem as though we have freely decided but the reality is it is a choice made from our available information. Even our religious training and highest ethics emanate from a brain that automatically regurgitates learned information in the form of competing choices which, depending on the situation wins the battle.

There is no 'me' or 'I' involved basically because there is no separate 'self' ( some may call it a soul or higher consciousness) to make choices and decisions – it is all carried out, mostly unconsciously, via the millions of neurons and networks of the brain. The question of ethics is a matter for society to thrash out – and that again depends on the conditioned thinking of the prevailing culture.

An afterthought regarding ethics and morality :- we behave 'responsibly' in accordance with the current culture we are indoctrinated into. It is responsible in some cultures to beat women; arrange marriages; circumcise; kill for honour; carry guns and knives; jail the mentally ill – all 'responsible' actions of conditioned thinking – nothing to do with the imagined ethics of a free will.

Turan: "it is all carried out, mostly unconsciously..."

And what about that small amountthat is carried out consciously? It differs in no way from that which is carried out unconsciously? Why doesn't it all happen unconsciously then?

The existence of consciousness has no absolutely no effect on behavior?

Turan: "It may seem as though we have freely decided but the reality is it is a choice made from our available information."

Of course it is a choice made from available information. You seem to be saying that one must have an infinity of options at their disposal in order for a genuine choice to have been made. This isn't logical at all.

Turan: "There is no 'me' or 'I' involved basically because there is no separate 'self'...to make choices and decisions"

Also, how exactly are you defining the term "I" when you state that it represents something nonexistent?

Hi Turan:

You wrote:
"An afterthought regarding ethics and morality :- we behave 'responsibly' in accordance with the current culture we are indoctrinated into. It is responsible in some cultures to beat women; arrange marriages; circumcise; kill for honour; carry guns and knives; jail the mentally ill – all 'responsible' actions of conditioned thinking – nothing to do with the imagined ethics of a free will."

This is a most timely comment.

Today people look at two sexual molesters on the supreme court and one in the white house and think "That's normal. That's OK."

And when we read about the fraudulent loans, we also see commentary saying "in our culture that's business as usual".

If you get your ethics from books, from philosophy, even religion, you are in for a rude awakening in this "real" world. But I think people are willing to accept something less, and why? Why not raise the standard? Why not become what we see is a better ethic?

This is the problem Brian raises with Religion. The most beautiful, highest ethics, like Ahimsa, or the Sermon on the Mount, in the very organizations that claim to own this message, we see corruption and hurt on a very broad spectrum. But sadly it isn't just religion, or business, or government. It's down to the family level.

Down to the relationship level...

Down to the individual level.

I think some ethics are practically universal, like honesty. They just emerge from within us, this sense of right and wrong. But they practiced with great variation, and those practices culturally conditioned as "acceptable". And in time we see for ourselves why this is so. And we become part of that corruption.

I like raising the bar, not lowering it. But what if I'm upside down? Then what am I actually doing with the bar?


Spence: "I think some ethics are practically universal, like honesty..."

It could be argued that the so called "Golden Rule" is an example of universal ethics, since variations have been found in almost all cultures, religions, and time periods. Even Freud wrote a version of the Golden Rule, in his own nomenclature, of course.

The Golden Rule is utterly simple and obvious. We are conscious and therefore, we experience. We understand the felt impact of experience, firsthand. Because we have a Theory of Mind, we presume that others are conscious as well, and therefore are also beings that experience. Hence, "Give others the same experience you would want."

On a related note, if our behavior is already entirely determined, there would be no risk in taking anyone's freedom away by eventually employing some manner of universal mind control, should it ever be a available, in the service of a kinder society.

I'm reminded of studies that revealed that regions of the US with higher levels of lithium in the drinking water were correlated with signicant drops in violent crime and suicide. If the right drug, electromagnetic wave, cranial stimulator, or whatever is found to physically alter our brain in such a way that it invariably produces docile, kind, sefless people, there should really be no reservations in making it mandatory for all.

I’ve had serious technical issues lately with the software on my phone and laptop... so, have missed out on being part of this very interesting perspective of free will.

I think it boils down to how you define freewill. Our freewill is constantly colliding with the freewill of others—people, sentient beings, nature...

So, (dare I say) GSD was possibly right—we have limited free will. ??

But again, it’s a very complex topic... I need my laptop to respond properly to this. 😊

JB.
The 'small amount that is carried out consciously' is just that which arises in thought to give the impression of conscious'ness'. There is no quality/entity called consciousness – just an organism that is conscious. It is thought that creates something we call consciousness and unconsciousness.

The options available are that which we have been programmed with from birth. There is (almost) an infinity of options and depending on the situation that confronts us the brain, like a good computer, comes up with a response or reaction – no free will needed.

The 'I', the 'Me' or 'Self' is the result of all the information our brains have accrued since birth. It consists of everything we have experienced – culture, country, nationality, rules and regulations – the lot. This information gives the impression of a 'me', a 'self' that purports to tell us who we are. So we become an American, a Frenchman, a Christian and so on who is called John who lives with a family called Smith. These are a mental constructs, very necessary for our day-to-day survival in our particular environment but does not tell us who we are – and so, prompted by any number of spiritual or secular authorities we forever embark on our 'searches' for the 'truth' (which is always there all the time - and is nothing special).

Turan: "There is no quality called consciousness."

You hold a minority position, even among pure physicalists. I disagree that there is no quality of consciousness. When conditions are right, consciousness results. It is an effect of a complex process and I would contend that when it appears, it is effectual by virtue of its very appearance.

Turan: "To avoid the mental conflict of cognitive dissonance a choice or decision arises from this mass of accrued information. What we feel as free will is the brain offering up from its store of experience and information a number of choices. The choice that presents the least mental conflict – even if it is one we may not like – gets selected."

This is almost certainly true, yet I'd like to point out that that "mental conflict of cognitive dissonance" is a conscious response. Without consciousness (or an organism that is conscious) there is no mental conflict. If the selection is based on the choice that present the least mental conflict, and mental conflict is a conscious response, then it follows that the conscious response is integral to the selection process. So, as opposed to consciousness being superfluous in the selection process, based on this description, it would be instrumental.

JB. It may be that you are investing my words with other meanings.

“There is no quality(/entity) called consciousness”.

I was of course referring to those who think, feel or believe that consciousness is a separate entity with a certain quality (usually supernatural) that raises it above the physical brain/body. This thinking, supported by many religious and spiritual disciplines, supports and justifies supernatural reasons for being conscious rather than seeing it as a natural phenomenon.

And yes, of course, choice emanating from our store of information is a "conscious response" – and definitely not "superfluous". Such a response arises from the brains circuitry and not (my main point) from a non-physical source.

The crux of the matter is that where we choose to believe that concepts like free will, consciousness, self, spiritual and so on are other than what is natural, then we will continue to live our lives in a state of duality – individually and collectively – with continuing conflict and turmoil.

Turan: "I was of course referring to those who think, feel or believe that consciousness is a separate entity with a certain quality (usually supernatural) that raises it above the physical brain/body."

I don't know who was saying that.

Contending that there is an organism that is conscious but no consciousness is tantamount to contending that there is an organism that is seeing but there is no seeing-ness (otherwise known as sight). An even apropos analogy would be the claim that there is an organism that is experiencing but no experience.

Of course there is no magical substance called sight that exists independently, apart from the process of seeing. Likewise, there is no substance called consciousness that exists apart from the state of being conscious. There isn't and there doesn't need to be. It doesn't negate that the state of "being conscious" exists. The fact that the state of being conscious is contingent, temporary, and relative doesn't invalidate its existence, as everything in existence is contingent, temporary, and relative. Every particle of matter is all of those qualities.

Turan: "The crux of the matter is that where we choose to believe that concepts like free will..."

Where we choose to believe? That subverts your entire argument.

Turan: "then we will continue to live our lives...with continuing conflict and turmoil."

So, you choose to live without conflict and turmoil? Well, no you don't actually. But what does it matter if we experience conflict and turmoil or not?

Spriritual Link, October Issue 1981 RSSB U.K. Part: Q and A Charan Singh

Q. Should we try not to do anything, just be as inactive as possible, so as not to create any new karma ?
A. Your thinking, your approach, is all a result of your fate karma. If you are meant to act, your fate karma will not let you sit idle, it will make you do what you are meant to do.
Just do your best and leave the result to the Father. You have no other option !
You will only do what He wants you to do - you are not doing anything of yourself.
Nothing is in our hands, it is all in the hands of the Father. All that is happening has already happened, somewhere. It is only being enacted now.
Without His orders not even a leaf can move.
Q. Is this the reason for "déja vu"?
A. Yes, thatŽs right, it has already happened, and you have just become conscious of it beforehand. In other words, there is no free will. It has already happened; we are just playing our parts

JB. You are seeing my argument from the wrong perspective. I'll sum up my position again. There is (of course) the condition of being conscious as there is choice and a 'self' (and sight). I see all such phenomenon arising from the brain/body organism. I see no evidence that they are produced separate from the organism i.e. non physically - that's all, quite simple. You can choose to disagree with that but that's up to you via your own particular view.

What we call free will is derived from the fact that from our limited store of information choices are made. We call these choices free will which implies that there is a separate entity ('a ghost in the machine') that is untouched by materiality - this I maintain is the illusion.

I understand your position. And you have agreed that the fact that one is conscious is integral to the process we call choice. You said that the choice is indeed a "conscious response" not that being conscious is not superfluous in this selection-process. So, while we clearly don't have "free will", it is also clear that the state of being conscious is required for some selection-processes. I find this interesting.

..and that being conscious is not superfluous in the selection-process.

This is what I find obvious. We are conscious, and since we are conscious, we are experiential beings. It's all about experience.

I would contend that qualia (the felt nature of experience) is indeed a salient factor in action-selection. If you can reasonably argue that felt-experience (past, present, and future) is not a factor in action selection, I'd love to hear it.

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